Saturday, November 13, 2004

Bottle Trees

Finally arranged an evening with H. and the kids and saw "Ray: Unchain My Heart" last night. Excellent movie - Jamie Foxx and Sharon Warren were wonderful - but I kept wondering about the looming presence of the colorful bottle tree. What does a bottle tree symbolize?

Fortunately the subject has won some attention. Old cobalt blue bottles, the 19th Century sort one sometimes finds in the ruins of old Western ghost towns, are the favored decoration:

The unusual trees originated as an ancient African custom that can be traced back as far as ninth century Congo. Natives hung hand-blown glass on trees to ward off evil. The tradition migrated to the United States and became part of the Southern African-American folklore.

Many items and symbols were used in a decorative manner, but each had a very significant meaning. The most well-known was nailing a horseshoe above the threshold for good luck. Other examples include tacking a Bible verse above the door, or painting the doors and windows blue, or "haint blue" as it was known among those who used it. Some hung "ghost mirrors" beside the door, believing that evil is repelled by its own sight.

The trees served a significant role in the yard spaces of African-American communities as they were used as a means of protecting the home by trapping evil spirits within the colorful bottles. The bottles, usually blue, were stuck onto the protruding limbs of a tree, usually cedar, because its branches point toward the heavens.

According to old Southern folk beliefs, the color blue wards off evil and brings good luck. I'm not sure why the other colors were used, but maybe they are just in case some evil spirits are color blind. Some folk go even father to capture the spirits by greasing the throats of the bottles with fat to better entrap the evil spirits. Once sucked inside, it is believed that the spirits cannot escape, the morning sun seals them inside. When a strong wind whips through the bottle tree causing it to emit a low whistle or moan, that signifies the death of the imprisoned spirits. During the 1878 yellow fever epidemic in Memphis, Tennessee, families where the disease was raging hung blue medicine bottles on tree limbs outside their homes to ward off spirits associated with the plague.

Here is a photo of bottle trees from the Eudora Welty Collection:

© Eudora Welty Collection - Mississippi Department of Archives and History

Welty used bottle trees in her short story "Livvie," which was set near the Old Natchez Trace, a famous colonial "road" used by Indians, merchants, soldiers, and outlaws between Natchez and Nashville, Tennessee. This photograph, like many others taken by Welty during her work for the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, appears in One Time, One Place: Mississippi in the Depression: A Snapshot Album (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996).

Bottle Tree as a Home Improvement project

Friday, November 12, 2004

Pleading With the Almighty

It's been a remarkable start to the Western rainy season so far: the ski areas in the Sierras have had their earliest start in 50 years. Nevertheless, the National Weather Service is not so sanguine:

[T]he recent stormy circulation pattern will likely not persist through the forecast period, with a drier and milder regime expected for much of the November-January period.
Come on, that's a cheap forecast! Big Rossby waves, the ones that really place a stamp on the climate's favorability, rarely stay in place an entire season! Even a child could make that forecast, or for that matter, this, more optimistic forecast:

Looking beyond this outlook period, various seasonal forecast models, as well as historical analogues with weak to moderate El NiƱo events, suggest improving odds for significant rain and snow toward late winter and spring across the Southwest, including the Colorado River Basin, and that could bode well for mountain snowpack this spring.

Here's to the power of prayer (even if from an agnostic heart), and the staying power of favorable Rossby waves!

Discretion, Personal Diplomacy, and Monty Python's Holy Grail

Thinking about Monty Python brought to mind my distinguished grandfather, Francis Drake Buzzell. In a commendable effort at personal diplomacy, around 1900, he and his Philippine Insurrection army buddies apparently tried to make a courtesy call on the Japanese Imperial Palace. His own description, written in 1953, is best:

Francis Drake Buzzell (center). Photo forwarded by Janice Becker.
Tried to make a call on the Mikado, but run into some bayonets instead and beat a retreat in which I outran my companion though his legs were longer than mine. It was 35 miles back to Yokohama & the boat and I led all the way. The boat sailed almost immediately, and I was glad to see a lot of water between it & the land.

When danger reared its ugly head......

Thursday, November 11, 2004

It's A Nice Day in the Neighborhood

I've been trying to arrange my blog shortcuts. Many of the shortcuts, particularly of the right-wing sort, I hadn't accessed since those happy, carefree, kiteflying days before Dubya's Iraqi WMD ruse was revealed. It's nice checking out everyone else's work. Here are some interesting things:

From Amy Sullivan at the Washington Monthly, now that the election is past and the enemies of liberty have been routed (i.e., Democrats), the terror level in the financial district of New York and Washington can be safely relaxed:

The Department of Homeland Security lowered the terrorist threat level yesterday for five financial institution headquarters in Washington, New York and New Jersey, and U.S. Capitol Police began removing 14 vehicle checkpoints around the Capitol that had frustrated motorists and neighborhood residents since August.

The government dropped the threat index for the financial buildings from orange, or "high risk," to yellow, or "elevated risk," because security measures taken there in the past three months and tightened security in the financial sector nationwide eliminated the need for the higher alert designation, said James M. Loy, deputy secretary of homeland security.
Jim Dedman waxes nostalgic about The Prisoner. I loved the series too. Here's the comment I posted on his web log:

I believe it was the summer of 1966 or '67, when I was a kid. My carefree summer play came to a stop once a week, to watch the latest eyepopping installment of "The Prisoner." No better series has ever been aired on TV! And yes, the last episode is really too confusing to be satisfactory. The soul of the series is the fact that the nightmare DOESN'T end, and forcing it to an end just didn't work well.

From Rantburg, a Romanian judge's objections to slander fell on deaf ears.

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) - A Romanian judge on Wednesday resigned after being accused of starring in an X-rated video, officials said.

Simona Lungu, 36, a judge at the Bucharest Tribunal, was investigated by judicial authorities over allegations that she acted in an adult video that was sold in Denmark.

Lungu denied it was her in the movie and asked the Forensic Institute, a state crime lab, to help her clear her name by taking photos of her and comparing them to the video.

Instead, the institute concluded it was her in the video.

From Across the River, something I hope isn't a harbinger of the future, a Creationist Science Fair.

From Patriot Paradox, sound political advice from the muck-gathering peasants of Monty Python's Holy Grail:

Listen. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.
plus a well-considered warning of danger in cuddly packets (Girlie-girl 'Cloudy', my own bunny, can make this belligerent guy run away in an instant!)

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Theater Projects

12th year running as the Prince in Sally Forment's Woodland Nutcracker, starring Megan Jackson as 'Clara'.

Apparently stage managing for a portion of DMTC's "Anything Goes."

And also, figuring out how to fund the New Theater's construction!

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The End of Journalistic Integrity

It's one thing to read about the amoral approach of political journalists in reporting the news: it's another thing to see it made manifest. The other night, C-SPAN presented a post-election panel of journalists, and Elisabeth Bumiller, the doyenne of the New York Times, proudly demonstrated everything that is so wrong with our political media.

When politicians lie to her - bold, transparent lies - she does not call them lies: she prefers an opaque construction, like 'the Vice-President's statements are contrary to the 9/11 Commission Report's findings,' or some other mealy-mouthed way of excusing people from responsibility for their statements. Pinning responsibility is not her job, she maintains.

Refusing to call a lie a lie, however, only enables the liars: everyone knows that. People have died for these lies. Why enable the killers? Why is she still employed? Why do I continue to subscribe to this NY Sunday Times drek?

Elisabeth Bumiller makes me retch.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Moments From Ola Na Iwi

The sound clip of the exploding car was always unsatisfactory: the echo of the boom was edited quite short, for some reason. Still, that clip was preferable to the night when a wrong button was pushed, and instead of an explosion, the sound of a strumming guitar filled the theater. Recovering from that required all of Maria's acting skills!

Giggling fits galore! As Gustav, near show's end, I endeavored to hand a smaller and smaller scrap of paper with Nanea's address every night to Mina, until the microscopic scrap became an object of comedy in its own right.

One night during rehearsal, I was wearing a felt flat-brim hat, under a shroud, beneath a donkey's-head mask. I couldn't see damned thing. Then I announced, "Here we are!" The absurdity of each word, individually and as a phrase, struck me as hysterical - I felt like Stevie Wonder headlining the Super Bowl halftime show - and from me, the giggles spread to the rest of the cast.

In amateur theater, you sometimes have to make do, and it can make for interesting theater. I'm sure the playwright Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl didn't consider casting the youngest female and the oldest male opposite each other as love interests in Act 2, Scene 2. The pained lugubrious pace added to a sense of morbid unreality. One night, near the end of the run, in order to make the pace more lively and impress the ladies, the oldest male decided to spring a kiss upon the unsuspecting youngest female (as her family watched from the audience): I can only imagine the look on her face!

Larry Lew made a great Reverend Dr. Pinchbottom! Rick Cook made a fine Jamison. Maria Ramirez made a great Kawehi! Eva Laurent made a great Pua. A wonderful job by everybody in the show!

Link to the lyrics of "Hawai'i Aloha".
Old Eagle Graffiti

Backstage at the Eagle Theater in Old Sacramento, and in the back stairwell, musical theater actors have scrawled their signatures everywhere over the years. The signatures are fun to read, and many of them were made by acquaintances and friends (e.g. Dena Lozano, Kathleen Reilley, Kris David, Kathy Davi, Pheonix Vaughn, Jason Stevens, Mara Davi, Andrea Thorpe, J. Scott Browning, Amber Jean Moore, etc.) The signatures seem to date from 1992 forwards, with many from 1999-2000: Runaway Stage's last season there. Since the Theater is already under the administration of the California Railway Museum, there is a reasonable chance the graffiti will become a relic of our time.

Most graffiti give names and dates of various shows. Some give a little more information:

"Dignity, Always Dignity," (director John Lee)
"Dance Belts, Always Dance Belts," (Pedro the Sparrow).

Dena-stank-la-wena was here and there and everywhere.

Esteban acted here 6/90 (Not according to the reviews)

Thomas, get your hands off my butt: "Mrs. Greer"

Don't you wish you were me?

Do us a favor, pass out after Act II.

Do I really look like a Peter?

No Minderellas Any Time.

More cleavage?

Look at what we're in jail for, little girls!

I was here - that's all you need to know.

"Little plasticy swords!!"

Excuse me, is your filthy rotten cow taken?

Put some stank on it!

(arrow pointing to a calcified wad of gum) What flavor is this?

Cows cows calm me
Black and white cows
on green pasture
green cows on a
Black and white pasture
Cows cows calm me

Bob Baxter in a dress. Who'd a thought? He's the bomb!

So many memories!
So many laughs!
So many gay men getting
all the girls!

(Plus there is now my own contribution, taking slight liberty with one of the signature lines from Ola Na Iwi:)

You island women give me hot Polynesian boils!
Ach du mein gott!
It's A Goth Future

I'm still working on the topic Friend Walt posed several weeks ago, namely:

So I'm thinking that rock is moribund. I don't mean that it is "creatively exhausted", or that today's rock is "low quality"; I merely mean that it is no longer very popular. Perhaps rock is yesterday's news. I asked several teenagers about it, none of whom were particularly eager to talk to me, and I got mixed results. Some said rock was ancient history, some said it was very much a going concern.
So, what IS popular? The hard part is figuring out exactly what teens think. I can confirm that teens are reluctant to discuss music with their middle-aged elders, probably because discussing the subject is too revealing of their inner lives. I tried to get Josh here at work, who is in his 30's, to comment on my web log posting on this subject, but despite my persistent wheedling, or maybe because of it, he declined to comment. Nevertheless, we just finished a play and most of the cast members were fairly young, and it was possible to ask them, in relaxed settings, what they liked.

One cast member (age about 22) belongs to a loose collective of friends who DJ in the Bay Area, and she aspires to DJ as well. Her boyfriend DJs locally at a local pool hall/dance hall here in Sacramento. Her collective is fond of "Deep House", with its jazzy notes, horns and saxophones, and which they distinguish from "Vocal House", and several other forms of House Music. She brought a CD so everyone could hear a sample. I love House Music, but the version of House Music found on that CD is exactly that type I find to be meandering and uninteresting. Nevertheless, I'm considering a trip to her club in the near future, to see if I judged her music prematurely.

The youngest member (age 18) of our cast was very interesting. She radiates ambiguity - she likes theater, but very unlike everybody else in the cast, she is shy, studious, intense, dressing in a manner of Skater Chic colliding with Suburban Goth: in her own 'dark thirty.' Her college major is 'undeclared.' She occasionally lacked transportation, and so I offered her lifts.

After she appeared at one rehearsal wearing a smart hoody with cat's eyes emblazoned on it, and with little cat's ears poking up, I suspected she might be interested in the same sort of House Music I favored, but what I thought was fanwear associated with English DJ 'Felix Da Housecat' was actually street gear offered by "Emily the Strange". On one long trip I offered to play anything she liked in my Bag o' CD's, and I wondered what she would choose (Jessica Simpson? Sheryl Crow? Coldplay?). After going through my collection, she ultimately gave up in frustration, and sat in silence.

Conversation turned to art, and I discovered she likes painting. She spent some time in France, finding a pleasant sidewalk space where she painted from dawn till dusk, at least until authorities chased her away (her French wasn't good enough at the time for her to understand why, but it could be lack of a work permit). She also spent time in Wales.

Her identity as a Goth eventually emerged, and her love of all things Celtic and European. She spoke a little of the travails of high school, and hearing people behind her whisper "Columbine" as she walked through the halls in her black trench coat. She went through a phase where she wore only black (with the occasional splash of red), but eventually gave that up as being too limiting. She was home-schooled her last year of high school. The home-school parents cobbled together a graduation ceremony, and she talked about how strange that was: unlike the experience of most Americans, it wasn't until graduation that she met her fellow students for the first time.

Sunday night at "The Rage", a local club geared to the 21-and-under set, is Goth night, and she goes for the dancing, despite the fact that Sacramento teens are sometimes under-educated about what being a Goth is all about, and the Goth scene here has declined over the last few years (unlike the Goth scene in Paris). She has a Goth DJ friend in San Francisco who sends her the latest Goth tunes. She loves the beautiful Goth ballads, the lovely Goth Romantic songs, the German Goth bands, and most of all, the dancing. I found it interesting that she, as a female, connects romantic songs with male singers, whereas I, as a male, connect romantic songs with female singers. Go figure!

Extended dancing can lead to a trance-like state of religious ecstasy. The Sufis, for example, live to reach that state. I find that state (I call it a 'bacchanalian frenzy') is rather hard to reach, but probably it's easier to reach with practice. She gets the practice. Extended sessions, from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., with no food, no rest, and almost no fluids.

I wondered whether a song I favored would meet with her approval: "Beautiful Things" by Andain (Gabriel and Dresden mix). I figured, well, the artist name is vaguely Celtic, the mix is vaguely German, and it's Industrial House music, which she had once mentioned as something she also liked. She listened to it, and commented that even if a few breaks at the beginning of the song were too "happy" for her taste, it could probably be slipped into an extended session of Goth Dance music without stirring displeasure. So, despite our different tastes and ages, we had a point of commonality.

So the word from Sacramento is that the future of rock music is very, very dark, and that's a very, very good thing.